At the Association of Partners for Public Lands’ annual conference this week, I felt right at home as Baltimore’s extreme wintry weather rivaled Yellowstone’s frigid and snowy climate. Yet the chilly temperatures and windblown flakes didn’t deter hundreds of representatives from non-profits, government agencies, and other organizations who work with public lands from attending the annual gathering.
Larry Schweiger, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, gave an alarming (yet hopeful) presentation on climate change on our public lands. He outlined the high stakes we are gambling with as a society—the very existence of our cherished wilderness. His book on the threats climate change pose to the natural world, Last Chance, will be released this summer. At the end of his talk, he flashed a photograph of his adorable grandchildren on the screen, and made an impassioned, personalized appeal—we must take action as we cannot ignore the peril our children and grandchildren will face from climate change. Larry continues to be a tireless advocate for the places and creatures who have no voice—check out his excellent blog on the National Wildlife Federation’s website (and consider making a donation to support the organization’s fine work).
To help promote sustainability, I taught a session on “Greening Your Organization: Sustainability on Our Public Lands.” Framing the need for sustainability with the need to protect the parks and it inhabitants, I related the stories of the threatened pika, the disappearing amphibians, and the decimated whitebark pine—surveying the impacts of climate change in the parks for the audience. But the thrust of my talk involved a call to action, and I outlined practical steps for greening operations along with examples of current sustainability efforts on our public lands.
At the trade show, I paid a visit to Chelsea Green’s booth, a publisher that has been dedicated to sustainability for over 25 years. Chelsea Green has produced a handy set of user-friendly books on greening and climate change for readers wanting to learn the basics, along with an eclectic series of titles on other sustainable topics such as an investigation into the forces behind green brands (The Gort Cloud) and the hidden link of milk to some illnesses (The Devil in the Milk). You can check out the full catalog of offerings on their website.
This morning Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan introduced their new documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, to this captive audience of passionate public land supporters. As the filmmakers dislike showing an incomplete work, Ken joked about locking the doors and holding us hostage so we could view the entire twelve-hour series. I don’t think he would have needed to lock the doors for this group—we all would have willingly spent the day watching this wonderful tribute to the parks.
I had viewed some of the segments last month in Yellowstone, but delighted in this expanded showing. I was certainly not alone in shedding tears as the documentary revealed scene after scene from national parks across the country. And when the Tuolumne River appeared, the water cascaded out of the screen toward me, and I could almost feel the friendly hand of the cool mountain breeze as it escorted the water across the land. Yosemite’s high country remains my favorite place on earth.
After the preview, my friend Michelle observed that she “kept thinking how connected I am to the parks, what an essential part of my life they have been—more than I realized.” When viewing this incredible documentary, I think most people will arrive at the same realization. The parks provide us with something essential—seeing that connection expressed through the masterful direction of Ken Burns and the lyrical voice of Dayton Duncan cannot help but stir something in our souls.